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HOW MUCH IT IS WORTH DEPENDS ON YOUAnd Ya'akov said, "Sell me, as this day, your birthright." (Bereishis 25:31)
Adapted from an article by R. Eliyahu Mishkowski as cited in Yalkut Lekach Tov, vol. 1, p. 139.
It seems clear that Eisav wanted no part of the birthright. However, wasn't it worth far more than a bowl of soup? We know that Eisav eventually regretted the sale (Bereishis 27:36). If so, why wasn't he later able to nullify it with a claim of "mekach ta'us" - (a faulty, and therefore invalid, transaction)?
The following true story provides an apt answer to this question:
A destitute chassid approached his Rebbe for a blessing regarding the money he needed to marry off his daughter. The Rebbe blessed him and instructed him to seize the first business opportunity that came his way. The faithful chassid departed in good spirits, secure in the knowledge that his Rebbe's blessing would bear fruit.
On his trip home, he stopped off at an inn for the night. There, he encountered a group of merchants who were discussing various business deals. "Here's my chance!" he thought to himself, and he approached them to see if they could offer him the opportunity his Rebbe had mentioned.
One of the merchants came up with what he thought was a brilliant idea. "Here's my chance to have some fun with this bumpkin!" He laughingly asked the naive chassid if he wanted to make a deal. The poor man needed no further proof that this turn of events was connected with the Rebbe's instructions, and he nodded affirmatively. The businessman appraised the financial situation of the pauper standing before him, and mockingly offered to sell him his share in the World to Come for the bargain price of - one ruble! The chassid agreed without a moment's hesitation. Amidst much laughter over their friend's success in conning a ruble from such a simpleton, the businessmen drew up an official document. And so it was that the transaction was legally finalized.
Everything was fine until the merchant returned home and told his wife about his escapades. He thought he had been quite clever - but she was less than amused. "What?" she cried. "You sold your portion in the World to Come? Are you crazy? Go and buy it back right now! This minute!" At first he thought that she would soon calm down, but she remained adamant. "I refuse to remain married to a man who has sold his portion in the World to Come!" she exclaimed. "You are not welcome in this house until you buy it back!"
With no alternative, he returned to the inn, hoping that the pauper was still there. To his immense relief, he saw that the chassid hadn't yet left. The merchant approached him and said softly, "You know, that whole business about me selling you my portion in the World to Come was just a joke. Let me give you back your ruble and we'll tear up the contract."
Unfortunately, he was in for a rude surprise, because the pauper steadfastly refused, saying, "A deal is a deal, and I won't renege." The crestfallen merchant tried to raise the price, but no matter how high he went, he met only refusal. At this point, the businessman was getting desperate. He decided to go to the pauper's Rebbe and plead with him to convince the man to sell back his portion in the World to Come.
The Rebbe heard the whole story and said that the pauper had no obligation to cancel the transaction. "My chassid was absolutely justified in what he did. However, I may be able to convince him to sell you back your portion in the World to Come - if the price is right."
The merchant immediately agreed. "Whatever you tell me, I"ll give."
"Listen," said the Rebbe, "this man has no money, and he has to marry off his daughter. If you agree to pay for all of the girl's wedding expenses, I'll convince him to sell it back to you." The frantic merchant readily agreed, and the deal was finalized. He paid the money and bought back his share in the World to Come (and his marriage).
Afterwards, the merchant turned to the Rebbe and asked, "Now tell me, how could you make me pay thousands of rubles for something that I sold for one ruble just the day before?"
The Rebbe smiled and explained: "Every item is sold according to its value at the time. When you made a joke of your portion and sold it for a ruble, it was hardly worth even that. However, once you recognized that your marriage depended on it, its true value soared into the thousands."
Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Yeshiva Gedolah Medrash Chaim
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